SINGAPORE - So badly did he want to play for the national team that he simply turned up for a training session uninvited. Nobody was going to tell Yip Yang that he was not going to make it and play for the Singapore water polo team.
Today, he is very much a part of the well-oiled machine who will be red-hot favourites to claim their 25th successive gold medal at the 2013 South-east Asia (SEA) Games in Naypyidaw, Myanmar.
Speaking to The New Paper recently, the 22-year-old, who is now in the starting seven, recalled how he lagged behind his peers at the start.
"I guess you can say one factor that could have held me back was my size," Yip said, remembering how he showed up as a skinny 18-year-old at the Toa Payoh Swimming Complex one evening four years ago.
"But, it was my dream to play for the national team since I was in Secondary 1. I had nothing to lose, I thought, 'Why not just go for it?'."
In a sport traditionally ruled by well-built physical specimens, Yip's 1.73m-tall, 60kg frame was nothing to shout about.
But the water polo team have a policy of not turning away anyone who wants to train with them and they gave him a glimmer of hope, although he had a long way to go to convince the selectors he was worthy of even training with the squad.
When asked what Yip lacked back then, water polo coach Lee Sai Meng said: "Everything. He was good in only swimming. He was small, couldn't shoot and didn't have a lot of skill.
"But he has a good work ethic and that's the biggest thing that helped him get to where he is now."
Yip's breakthrough came in mid-2010 when the national selectors rewarded him for his persistence and hard work with a place in the team's training tour of Guangzhou, ahead of the Asian Games later that year. Despite going up against much bigger players, he shone.
His willingness to try shots others wouldn't impressed even the Guangzhou province water polo coach Liu Cai Xiong, a former Olympian.
According to Singapore team manager Samuel Wong, Liu described Yip as being "unusually talented", especially considering his size.
Yip didn't make the Asian Games squad that year because of National Service commitments, but he had caught the attention of the coaches.